The Negro and the Nation: A History of American Slavery and Enfranchisement

By George S. Merriam | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XII
SLAVERY AS IT WAS

AND now, in the year 1852, there befell an event perhaps as momentous in American history as any between the establishment of the Constitution and the Civil War. A frail little woman, the wife of an obscure theological professor in a Maine village, wrote a story, and that story captured the heart of the world. It is scarcely an exaggeration to say that Uncle Tom's Cabin converted the North to the cause of the slave. The typical Union volunteer of 1861 carried the book in his memory. It brought home to the heart of the North, and of the world, that the slave was a man,--one with mankind by that deepest tie, of human love and aspiration and anguish,--but denied the rights of a man.

The book was a birth of genius and love. It is absolutely sweet-spirited. Its intense and irresistible plea is not against a class or a section, but against a system. It portrays among the Southern slave-holders characters noble and attractive,--Mrs Shelby, the faithful mistress, and the fascinating St. Clare. The worst villain in the story is a renegade Northerner. Its typical Yankee, Miss Ophelia, provokes kindly laughter. The book mixes humor with its tragedy; the sorrows of Uncle Tom and the dark story of Cassy are relieved by the pranks of Black Sam and the antics of Topsy. With all its woes, the story somehow does not leave a depressing effect; it abounds in courage and action; the fugitives win their way to freedom; the final impulse

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